By Lindsay Barrett
Kids have been working all year long to learn new information and skills in school. Of course, as adults, we want that hard-earned knowledge to stick around permanently! (And not go the way of, say, kids’ tendency to “forget” to do a chore you reminded them about eight times.) Here’s some helpful insight into how kids retain information, and some teacher-approved tricks for making it happen at home.
1. Use it or lose it
Let’s update this saying to “Use it, correctly, again and again.” As anyone who’s ever crammed for a test knows, short-term learning doesn’t usually translate into long-term mastery.
Repetition over time strengthens brain connections. This is especially true for kiddos. Finding ways to keep coming back to those multiplication facts, spelling words, or state capitals is essential for kids to hang onto that knowledge long after the school bell rings.
Our instinct as adults might be to let kids struggle a bit to arrive at correct answers on their own, and in the case of new learning, this can be a valuable method. When going for review and retention of content, however, practicing correctly is key. So rather than having a kid try six times to correctly define a vocabulary word, or erase again and again until they’ve got the countries on a map of Africa right, just tell them the correct answer or show them how to quickly find it. Time spent mulling over “wrong” information can actually inhibit learning. Neuroscientists call this lingering in an “error state.” No thanks!
2. Create optimal conditions
Kids can smell homework a mile away, but there are ways to make review pleasant and effective.
Movement has been shown to improve learning by kickstarting the brain into a more productive state. Plus, when kids review on the move, they often forget they’re doing schoolwork.
Using skills in real life contexts is another winning strategy that works particularly well at home. This keeps practice interesting (boring practice = less effective practice), and creates a whole new set of experiences on which kids can hang their synaptic connections. The more varied ways a kid can practice a skill or use information, the better.
Finally, while excessive stress is a surefire obstacle to learning, a little bit of well-intentioned intensity actually helps get those neurons firing. Turning review into a game or light-hearted competition is a great way to make it fun and effective.
3. Walk and talk
What feels boring when competing with playing at home feels entertaining when it’s making the steps fly by during a routine task. Recite multiplication tables while walking the dog or review letters and sounds on the way to the mailbox. (While you lose the movement benefits, this trick also works for vehicle and public transportation commutes. Kids are stuck there anyways, and might be grateful for something to pass the time!)
4. Make it a routine
Little bits of review add up. Post a sticky note “password” on a frequently used doorway in your home so kids have to read a sight word or vocabulary word every time they pass through. Give out a math problem as a “meal ticket.” We’ve got a handy list of fun practice activities that will have kids too busy moving and creating to complain.
5. Put it on a game board
Use sidewalk chalk to add spelling, vocabulary, or sight words, or math facts, to a hopscotch board. Or, draw a bull’s eye target on the pavement and put words or numbers in the rings. Kids can throw a stone or bounce a ball onto the target, or even set up a board and a log as a lever to be a pinecone launcher.
6. Learn in the kitchen
The kitchen is a hub for real-life learning. Kids can practice reading packaging or write down “orders” from family members. They can use knowledge of fractions to follow a recipe, or be in charge of dividing a pan of brownies fairly.
7. Let kids be the teacher
Teaching someone else is a powerhouse learning strategy and kids love to feel like capable experts. If teaching family members isn’t motivating enough, lend out your phone for kids to make their own teaching videos. They can teach viewers about creepy-crawlies they find, the weather, or whatever else relates to content they learned at school.
8. Make it a friendly competition
Here’s where that “just right” amount of stress works in your favor. Set a family challenge to be the first to use a vocabulary word in regular conversation during the day. Or, each grab a book and tally how many times you can find a sight word. Compete to see who can create the longest sentence with a set of word cards.
9. Let learning helps kids get what they want
Kids are never more motivated than when trying to achieve their own goals. Does your kid want to buy a new gadget? Use it as an excuse to practice working with money and make a savings plan. Is your kid angling for a later bedtime? Ask them to put those skills they learned in writing class to work and write you a persuasive letter.
Reviewing school learning to make it stick can be quick, easy, and painless. Keep these tricks in your back pocket and you’ll help make sure all that hard work this school year was absolutely worth it!
Lindsay Barrett is a teacher and literacy consultant. She writes resources for educators and parents. Find out more about her work at lindsay-barrett.com. For more by Lindsay, read: How Kids Learn To Write, And How To Help Them Do It | How To Make Learning Fun: Using Playtime To Build Literacy | Easy As A, B, C: Fun Ways To Help Kids Learn Their Letters | Sight Word Activities: Fun Ways To Help Kids Learn To Read And Write